How hungry do you need to be to eat sheep’s head?
Not very, as it happens.
Before my 4 hour-long, belly-busting food tour of Marrakech started, I’d barely finished my last mouthful of an incredible chicken tagine lunch of sizemic proportions. So good, in fact, was the giant tagine – expertly and no doubt lovingly prepared by a Berber family – that I’d say it comfortably ranks in my top five meals of all time. The chicken and vegetables had been cooked to perfection, so tender they almost melted in my mouth. And the stacked plate of flavoured couscous, the tray of fruit, cake, and tea that followed – not to mention the salad and soup beforehand – it was enough to feed a starving family for a week.
I was deliriously full, and racked with food guilt. But I’d made a commitment to food that day, and I would never let food down. Food is a loyal friend, whom I respect and admire. Food has always been there for me, and the very least I owe food is my full attention when it offers itself to me, in any shape or unsightly form. Even sheep’s head.
The Marrakech Food Tour
We met the rest of our group in the electric Jemaa El-Fnaa square, and were led by Youssef – one half of Marrakech Food Tours – to a nearby restaurant, where we were shown what can only be described as a hole in the ground. Inside this hole was an underground oven, in which entire sheep meats are hung and tentatively cooked through. Historically, the leftover ashes of traditional Hammam spas were used to heat the oven, but these days they burn their own fires.
Rather than jumping in for a closer look, we took our seats upstairs, where strips of salted lamb, citrus-marinated lamb, flatbread, and the main feature – a head on a plate – were soon served.
Eating sheep’s head
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a bit apprehensive, especially after watching the girl in front of me pop the sheep’s eyeball into her mouth, and then bite down like it was a cherry tomato (thankfully it didn’t burst and squirt everywhere). But there was no way I was going too sit this one out, and I was, as they say, “in Rome”.
I thought it best to build up to the main feature, so began with some meat that had apparently not originated from the head. But this was a mistake, as when I finally did get my fingers in there (knives and forks are a no-go), I ended up with a gristly bit from somewhere near the eye socket, instead of the juicy cheek. Acting all tough, I chewed and swallowed like it was no big deal, when in my head I was just willing it to end. What can I say? I’ll try unusual foods for the sake of embracing foreign culture, but there’s a good chance I won’t like it.
One mouthful was enough, which was just as well, considering the absolute avalanche of food that was about to hit us.
Next up was a selection of olives – from mild and fragrant to salted and extra spicy – procured from a smiley chap in the Souk. They came as quite a relief, which proved to be rather short-lived when we discovered what was to be our next dish: a sardine sandwich.
Yes, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of sinking my teeth into a sardine sandwich, but luckily these sardines were not tinned and covered in oil; rather ground down into a mince, and served with fresh onions, olives and hearty flatbread. It proved to be a palpable hit, prompting many nods and noises of approval around the table as thy were wolfed down.
With a dodgy burger van look about the place, we all agreed that we’d never have stopped there to eat ordinarily, never mind try a sardine sandwich. And that is exactly why the Marrakech Food Tour is worth doing.
Next up were freshly boiled-alive snails, whom I’ll admit I felt quite sorry for, as they were forced to look on in horror while their brothers were scooped from the pool and poured into the steaming, bubbling-hot death pot. And still I felt a pang of guilt as I pierced one slimy snail corpse after the other with a cocktail stick, pulling them from their shells and then dangling them into my cake-hole, to bring an end to their gruesome fate. But nature is cruel. And snails are surprisingly tasty.
The best couscous in Marrakech
After this we followed Youssef to a restaurant that he claimed made “the best couscous in Marrakech”. Now I’m no expert, but I knew the couscous I’d had earlier that day in the Atlas mountains was going to take some beating, and I really wasn’t remotely hungry anymore. In fact, my food intake threshold was coming blurrily into focus, but I would not be defeated. I still had some fight in me.
We arrived at the family-run restaurant and were seated. Whether or not I’d ever be able to get up again, I wasn’t entirely sure. Youssef explained that the very best couscous in Morocco was made by the hardened biceps of Moroccan mothers and grandmothers who had been making the stuff for centuries, and that that was the reason we’d come here. Soon enough, out came the couscous, piled up on three huge plates, with tender vegetables draped over the top. It was superb, but after four or five mouthfuls said threshold was reached. I couldn’t take any more.
About Marrakech Food Tours
Less eating made time for more talking, and we got to learn a little more about Marrakesh Food Tours. Youssef is Moroccan, but met his American partner, Amanda, in the states. They decided to re-locate to Marrakesh a few years ago and – spurred by the clear opportunity in the market for authentic Moroccan food tours in Marrakech – chose to start their own food tour company. Now the tour runs twice a day, and has a team of five expert guides who speak eight languages between them. At $65 per person the tour isn’t cheap, but this is a unique experience you simply won’t find anywhere else in Marrakech, or indeed Morocco.
Apart from all the delicious food we tried, we also had the rare opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes. A visit to a local bakery, for instance, where we learned about the generations-old bread-making process, and a peek into the back room of a traditional Hammam, where one man had the job of keeping all the fires burning. We experienced the Souks in a very local way.
The tour finished with a milkshake of our choice – I went for the avocado, honey and almond milk flavour – and three trays of extremely sticky biscuits. But so insanely full were we by this point that it actually hurt to breathe (#firstworldproblems). So, on Youssef’s insistence, I gathered what remained of the sticky biscuits (the vast majority) and packed them into a box, which I would take home to my appreciative mother.
The tour had somehow lasted almost four hours – my concept of time had clearly been impaired. And my waistline had never expanded so rapidly. But I had fulfilled my commitment to food, and for that reason I could waddle home with a clear conscience.
Well, almost. Sorry snails.
For the record, Youssef and Amanda were kind enough to offer me a free tour, in exchange for this review. But all opinions are my own. If I hadn’t enjoyed the tour, I simply wouldn’t have written about it. If you’d like to book the tour for yourself then head over to Amanda and Youssef’s website, marrakechfoodtours.com to make a reservation.
For more (and better) pictures of Marrakech, check out my post “25 photos that will inspire you to visit Marrakech” 🙂